There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women

This International Women’s Day, I have been thinking a lot about empowerment. A multi-dimensional process, empowerment enables individuals or a group of individuals to realize their full identity and powers in all spheres of life. In Uganda, women’s empowerment is a frequently discussed topic. But in the 21st century, do we still need to talk about empowerment and filling the gender gap?

We have examples of women succeeding and becoming leaders in our country. We know mothers that have left the home to become corporate presidents. However, we have to ask ourselves if this means we no longer need to talk about women’s empowerment. We have to ask ourselves if women in Uganda are getting their deserved rights. Are girls receiving the same education as boys?  Are girls still getting married at a young age?

In urban areas like Kampala, these are questions we often forget to ask. But we need to have these hard conversations, especially in rural areas like Mayuge District, where I work as the District Health Officer. According to a United Nations report, “women are half the world’s population, yet they do two-thirds of the world’s work, earn one-tenth of the world’s income, and own less than one-hundredth of the world’s property.”[1] I see this in Mayuge District, where it is common to find women supporting very large families with limited financial means. Women are the main providers of basic services such as housing, education for their children, clothing, and food. Several homes in the district are headed by single mothers and widows.

I strongly believe that if you empower women, you will be empowering a whole family. Empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors is essential to building stronger economies, achieving internationally agreed-upon goals for development and sustainability, and improving the quality of life for women, men, families, and communities.  Studies show that when women are supported and empowered, their families are healthier, their children better educated, agricultural productivity improves and incomes grow. In short, communities become more resilient.

In my district and country, we need to continue advancing gender by specifically closing the gap in access to public services like health and education. As leaders, we all have a role to play,   to continue to advocating for increased funding to support communities in addressing these issues.

In Mayuge District, we are undertaking innovative initiatives to address the gap in empowerment, including:

  • Working with partners such as Living Goods, Pathfinder, RHITES EC, UNICEF, Makerere School of Public Health and others we are being supported to improve. Specifically, working with Living Goods, we are digitally empowering frontline Community Health Workers, who majority are women to provide quality community health services to the community in a bid to reduce child and maternal mortality in Mayuge.
  • Mobilizing and engaging communities to improve the uptake of health services by sharing adequate information and services. We have worked closely with Living Goods to create the Mayuge district community health dashboard. This is helping us greatly in seeing the reality on the ground so that we can plan health projects accordingly;
  • Using timely and real-time data at the district to support in decision making; We are very excited to share our learning with Living Goods to inform the roll-out of district community health dashboards to other districts in Uganda to support decision-makers in making evidence-based policies.
  • Empowering communities with tools to ensure performance management of health workers.

Today, in celebration of International Women’s Day, I would like to encourage my fellow leaders at the district, country, and global level to think innovatively. By keeping the conversation in the spotlight and undertaking new projects, we can empower women and support healthy, prosperous and resilient communities.

[1] Report of the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development, and Peace (New York, NY: United Nations, 1980) http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/otherconferences/Copenhagen/Cop….

Written by

Sister Betty Elizabeth Kawala

Acting District Health Officer: Mayuge District Local Government, Uganda
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